In the wake of their grandson’s death, grandparents Henry (Julian Richings) and Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) Walsh have turned to Satanism. It is their hope that by following an ancient spell-book, they can bring their beloved youngster back. The spell needs a vessel for the spirit to transport itself into and so the pair decide to kidnap a pregnant woman. After attempting the spell however, they quickly realise that they’ve summoned more than they bargained for.
When it comes to Satanists in film, they are almost always angry young people clad in black, with a fondness for alternative music. It’s a tired stereotype, and is one that writer Keith Cooper and director Justin G. Dyck, seek to subvert. The story could have followed a younger couple through the same process, but by making our main couple much older, outwardly meek and ‘normal’, the story becomes far more interesting. By ageing our pair up we get to spend time with an age demographic that is often overlooked within genre cinema. There’s a misconception about fresh and new things having to be young; Anything for Jackson proves that old can be just as innovative. With such an under-represented age group cast into the spotlight, Cooper and Dyck have lucked out with a wealth of unexplored themes and issues.
With age comes experience, and in Julian Richings and Sheila McCarthy, who have over three hundred imdb credits between them, Dyck has found two solid leads. Their performances as Henry and Audrey are effortless and completely natural. Both have that unassuming appearance that allows their characters to operate under the radar, but looks only go so far. Henry and Audrey are not all-out-evil by any measure, desperation and love having driven them to the point of no return. Richings and McCarthy walk the link between menacing threat and mild-mannered grandparents beautifully. Their inner conflicts about the task ahead help make them more human and as such the viewer can connect to them despite their ill intentions.
It’s not all about the elderly couple though, Konstantina Mantelos also brings her A-game as their pregnant hostage, Becker. Rather than be a hysterical mess, Becker engages her intellect to try and orchestrate her escape. She’s also almost as untrustworthy as Henry and Audrey, placing the audience into the strange position of not quite knowing who to align themselves with. There are some great moments between Mantelos and McCarthy in which both women try to bend the other to their whim, and watching the battle of wits play out offer some of the best scenes in the film.
Henry and Audrey’s inexperience with the occult world allows Dyck to bring in a veil of comedy that wraps itself around the horror elements, of which there are many. Comedy and horror always make for good bedfellows. Humour allows tension to be eased and offers the audience some respite. Sometimes films push too far into one tone or the other and the result is often off-kilter. Anything for Jackson pushes both to their extremes, but just about manages to stay on track. Rather than being gross-out or slapstick comedy, our humour comes from the strange and unexpected elements that crop-up. It’s not a laugh-out-loud affair, more of a WTF nervous chuckle every now and then that keeps the adrenaline pumping between frights. The scare sequences themselves revolve around the other spirits vying to return via Becker’s unborn baby. This rag-tag group of ghastly apparitions feel like a blend of Insidious and It Follows as they pop up out of nowhere and look like stuff of nightmares. One bag-clad ghost in particular is sure to sneak into one or two bad dreams.
If you’re in the market for a truly surprising film that is full of genuinely unexpected moments, then Anything For Jackson is perfect. With a true “WTF?” moment every few scenes, Anything for Jackson definitely keeps the viewer on their toes, which makes for a welcome reprieve to the factory-churned genre-fodder. A film filled with genuine surprises and unexpected swerves, Anything for Jackson is a wonderful slice of supernatural insanity.
Anything for Jackson is available on Shudder now.
This review first appeared on THN.